Ask Abe: On, Wisconsin

An Alum

When was “On, Wisconsin!” coined?

Abe

Badgers have long been singing “Fight! Fellows! Fight!” from Camp Randall’s stands, but did you know the tune’s title, “On, Wisconsin,” originated on the battlefield? On November 25, 1863, Wisconsin’s 24th Volunteer Infantry Regiment and other members of the Union Army met Confederate resistance at the Battle of Missionary Ridge outside of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Confederate soldiers guarding the hill shot down Union flag bearers, but that didn’t deter 18-year-old Lieutenant Arthur MacArthur Jr. He got ahold of the flag and rushed up the hill, exclaiming “On, Wisconsin!” as he staked it into the ground. His action, for which he received the Medal of Honor, helped rally the regiment and break the Confederate line. So, how did “On, Wisconsin,” become a fight song? In 1909, glee coach and pianist William Purdy composed it — although he intended to submit the piece to the University of Minnesota. At the time, Carl Beck 1913, a New England native and old friend of Purdy, insisted that the song better suited Wisconsin and helped Purdy rewrite the composition. Purdy then distributed the music to UW students before a November 13 game against (appropriately) Minnesota, and Badger fans quickly adopted the song. The original Wisconsin version was played unchanged until 1969, when UW Band Director Michael Leckrone adjusted the tune to help engage Badger fans more quickly. All in all, things seem to have stuck. On, Wisconsin!